California PC 278 Child Abduction

California takes child abuse situations seriously and law enforcement will act quickly in cases where child endangerment is imminent. Facing child abduction charges is not an offense anyone should take lightly. A conviction for this offense can carry long-term, life-changing consequences. It is highly recommended you find a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

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To gain a more critical understanding of the legal consequences for violating this law here is a review of how California defines child abduction.

California definition of child abduction

California outlines what child abduction is under Penal Code 278. This law is the act of stealing a child and this situation occurs when:

  • A person who has no right of custody,

    • No right of custody means the person does not have legal custodial rights.

  • Maliciously takes a child away, and

    • Maliciously taking or stealing a child means the person defrauded, annoyed, exhibited disturbing behavior, or injured another person.

    • Enticing, keeping, withholding, or concealing the child are all definitions of maliciously stealing a child.

    • A child or minor is someone under the age of 18.

  • Intentionally keeping the child from their lawful custodians.

    • Intent means the perpetrator acted on purpose to keep the child detained, concealed, or hidden.

    • A lawful custodian is a parent or legal guardian who has the right to exercise physical care and control of the child.

What if the child consented?

A child can agree to go with someone, however, that does not mean it is legal. Having legal consent means that you had parental or lawful custodial permission to take the child. Under state law, a minor cannot give lawful consent because they are still under the legal care of their parent or legal guardian.

Example:

Simon, an eleven-year-old boy befriended his neighbor, forty-year-old Ian. Ian was a registered sex offender and Simon’s parents were aware of Ian’s criminal history. Ian convinced Simon to go with him from San Diego to Los Angeles for the weekend. He would bring him to Knotts Berry Farm and Six Flags Magic Mountain. Once Simon got home from school on Friday, he packed some clothes and left a note for his parents. Once they were home from work they found the note stating where he had gone and who he was with. They immediately reported Simon as abducted by Ian.

Just because Simon agreed to go with him does not mean Ian had the right to take him for the weekend. Not only did Ian fail to get parental permission, but the parents had more cause to worry because of Ian’s criminal background history. Ian could face felony PC 278, child abduction charges which would carry enhanced penalties depending on the severity of his previous criminal offenses.

Are family members excluded from this law?

Contrary to what some people believe, just because you are a family member does not give you the right to take a child away from their parent or legal guardian. Being a grandparent, aunt, uncle, cousin, or older sibling to the child is irrelevant. If you are not the lawful custodian, you can be charged with PC 278, child abduction.

Example:

Simon, an eleven-year-old boy befriended his neighbor, forty-year-old Ian. Ian was a registered sex offender and Simon’s parents were aware of Ian’s criminal history. Ian convinced Simon to go with him from San Diego to Los Angeles for the weekend. He would bring him to Knotts Berry Farm and Six Flags Magic Mountain. Once Simon got home from school on Friday, he packed some clothes and left a note for his parents. Once they were home from work they found the note stating where he had gone and who he was with. They immediately reported Simon as abducted by Ian.

Just because Simon agreed to go with him does not mean Ian had the right to take him for the weekend. Not only did Ian fail to get parental permission, but the parents had more cause to worry because of Ian’s criminal background history. Ian could face felony PC 278, child abduction charges which would carry enhanced penalties depending on the severity of his previous criminal offenses.

Similar Offenses

Child abduction, also known as child stealing, can often be associated with other offenses. Facing multiple offenses will result in longer incarceration, higher fines, and possible strikes on your record.

What can count as a strike?

California’s Three Strikes Law is something every defendant will want to avoid. It means if charged with at least three serious and/or violent felonies (as listed below), and convicted, you could face a mandatory minimum sentence of 25-years-to-life in state prison.

Felony Crimes under the “Three Strikes Law” -

This is just a shortlist of serious and violent crimes that, if convicted, will result in a strike on one’s criminal record.

  • Aggravated assault

  • Arson

  • Attempted Murder

  • Carjacking

  • Extortion

  • Kidnapping

  • Murder or voluntary manslaughter

  • Rape

What are the most common associated offenses?

Here are just a few of the offenses that are similar to PC 278, child abduction, and can be charged in addition to it.

California PC 207 - kidnapping;

You commit this crime by moving another person a substantial distance without their consent, and you employed force or fear to do it.

California PC 236 - false imprisonment;

This crime is committed when you illegally violate someone else’s physical liberty by unlawfully confining, detaining, or restraining them without their consent.

California PC 272 - contributing to the delinquency of a minor;

This happens when you cause a minor to engage in illegal or delinquent behavior, be habitually truant, or become a dependent of the juvenile court system because of your actions or due to a failure of performing your duties (failure to act).

California Domestic Violence Laws;

Domestic Violence covers penal codes ranging from corporal punishment on a spouse to child abuse and elderly abuse. It is not uncommon for child abduction cases that involve family members to revolve around or stem from a domestic violence situation or custody battle.

California PC 273(d) - child abuse;

Imposing corporal injury on an infant/child/minor is a crime under PC 273(d). This statute makes it a crime to exact physical injury or cruel/unusual punishment on a minor.

What The Prosecution Must Do

To convict someone of PC 278, child abduction, the prosecution must first prove beyond a reasonable doubt the facts of the crime. These factors are also referred to as facts of the case or:

Elements of the Crime

  • Someone who does not have the right to custody,

    • The right to/of custody means this person did not have lawful custodial rights.

  • Acted with malice to take a child away, and

    • Under this law, acting with malice means the perpetrator annoyed, defrauded, exhibited disturbing behavior, or injured another person.

      • Examples of maliciously stealing a child include enticing (a child to go with you) and keeping, withholding, hiding, or concealing the child.

    • Anyone under the age of 18 is considered a child or minor under California law.

  • Had the intent to keep the child from their legal guardians.

    • Acting with intent means the perpetrator acted purposely to keep the child detained or hidden from their parents.

    • A parent or legal guardian who has the right to exercise physical care and control of the child is known as the lawful custodian of that child.

Remember, child abduction can be filed against family members and strangers alike. If the case fits the criteria for PC 278, the prosecution will seek a solid conviction. Get the help of a criminal defense attorney as soon as you can. It could mean the difference between facing the maximum penalties or possible leniency.

Who Can Face Charges

Take a look at the following examples to gain a better idea of who can be charged with a child abduction offense. Each situation specifically illustrates actions that could lead to the D.A. or prosecution pursuing charges.

Example 1:

Upset with his ex-wife for winning the custody battle, Nathan takes his two infant children onto a plane and flies to Canada. He did not have full-custodial rights to take them. According to the parenting plan, neither parent could take the child across state lines, let alone across the border without each one’s written or recorded consent. He intended to raise the children on his own and completely exclude their mother.

Nathan could face charges for child abduction under PC 278. Not only did he violate the parental plan, which was approved by the family court, but he also purposely acted to keep the children from their lawful custodian.

Example 2:

Ariel does not have full custody of her three children. She is only allowed to have them every weekend. When she finds out her ex-husband has a girlfriend, she asks the kids if they want to go to a secluded cabin in a different county without telling their dad. They agreed because they wanted more time with their mother.

Ariel could still face charges for PC 278 because she violated the terms of the custody agreement and did not have the consent of the children’s main/full-time lawful guardian. Even though the children consented and expressed their interest in spending more time with her, she would still need the permission of her ex-husband. Especially if she were planning on keeping them longer than a weekend or traveling out of the city with them.

Example 3:

Everett got to have his twin 10-year-old nephews for the summer. He also loved traveling overseas. He grew attached to them and asked if they wanted to go to Italy with him. Excited, they agreed and went with him. Everett did not tell their parents, nor did her care. He felt he could offer them a better life and made the executive decision to keep them.

Just because the kids agreed did not give Uncle Everett the right to keep them. He is not the parent and has no legal custodial rights. He could be charged with PC 278, child abduction.

Example 4:

Mona had weekend (Saturday and Sunday) custody of her 8-year-old son. Janette, her ex-girlfriend, had full custody. When Mona found out Janette had a new partner, she refused to transfer her son to Janette’s custody.

This is a prime example of deprivation of custody. Although Mona was allowed to have their son for the weekend, come Monday morning, he would need to be in Janette’s care. Depriving the lawful parent who also has full custody of the child is a chargeable offense.

Legal Defense

Attempting to defend yourself against such allegations will be extremely difficult. Retaining legal representation as soon as possible could make a difference in the outcome of your case. Depending on the situation, a criminal defense lawyer will have a grasp of what common legal defenses have been used to challenge a PC 278 offense.

Sometimes, abduction cases can be tough to understand, especially in domestic situations. When dealing with family squabbles, there can often be a lack of clear communication which may lead to exaggerated situations or obvious misunderstandings.

Did you have custodial rights?

To be guilty of PC 278, the defendant must not have lawful custodial rights to the child. If you do have parental rights, then you should not be convicted of child abduction.

Example:

Marissa wanted to take her sons to Disneyland for the weekend. She and her ex-husband, Ron, had fifty-fifty custody of the kids. She had the kids Thursday mornings to Sunday afternoons and their dad had them Sunday nights to Thursday mornings. She texted Ron on Saturday morning to let him know where they were going for the weekend. During her time with the kids, she did not need his permission to do anything. They were only required to let each other know.

Ron was upset that she waited until that morning to text him when they were already headed to L.A. He thought it was too last minute and irresponsible planning. He tried to claim she abducted the kids.

Marissa would not be guilty of PC 278, child abduction because she is also a lawful custodial parent. She did not need to run her plans by her ex before she could implement them. A mother would not be guilty of this crime simply for bringing her sons to an amusement park for a few days.

Were you acting with malicious intent?

Maliciously taking a child with the intent to conceal them from their legal guardians is an element of PC 278. If the defendant lacked malicious intent, they should not be convicted of child abduction.

Example:

Tony surprised his nephews with tickets to a Padres vs Mariners baseball game. They were having a rough time because of their parents’ (Cara and Ned) dramatic divorce. It was an away game, which meant he would need to travel from San Diego to Seattle. He thought it was easier to ask for forgiveness than permission from their parents, so he figured he would tell them once they landed in Seattle. He only wanted to spoil his nephews and raise their spirits during their parent’s divorce.

The kids’ parents were livid and Ned never liked his brother-in-law. He felt Cara and Ned were conspiring to keep the kids away from him. So he accused Ned of child abduction. In this case, Tony did not have the right to take the kids to Seattle for a baseball game. However, he would not be guilty of PC 278 because he did not act with malice. He only wanted to cheer up the kids. He also did not intend on concealing them from either parent.

Penalties for PC 278

If convicted of child abduction, PC 278, you face:

Misdemeanor;

As long as one year in county jail, and/or

Maximum fines of one thousand dollars.

Felony;

A potential four-year state prison sentence, and/or

Fines as high as ten thousand dollars.

Enhanced Penalties

The consequences are more severe if the child was severely physically or psychologically abused. For instance, if the child was beaten, starved, or placed through mental anguish the abductor will most likely face enhanced felony punishments.

If there is a strike on your criminal record, depending on the details of the case, a felony conviction for PC 278 could lead to a second strike. This means the penalties would be double what the felony penalties are for child abduction.

Penalties for Associated Offenses

California PC 207 - kidnapping;

Simple kidnapping - Felony;

3, 5, or 8 years in state prison,

Fines as high as ten thousand dollars.

Aggravated kidnapping - Felony;

5, 8, or 11 years in state prison, or

Life in prison without the possibility of parole.

California PC 236 - false imprisonment;

Misdemeanor;

As long as one year in county jail, and/or

Fines of up to one thousand dollars.

Felony;

16 months, 2 or 3 years in county jail.

California PC 272 - contributing to the delinquency of a minor;

Misdemeanor;

Up to one year in county jail, and/or

Informal (summary) probation,

Fines as high as two-thousand-five-hundred dollars.

California Domestic Violence Laws;

Depending on which specific crime under California’s Domestic Violence laws you committed, you could face either a misdemeanor or felony penalties. Some of the consequences include;

Misdemeanor;

As long as one year in county jail,

Fines up to six thousand dollars.

Mandatory participation in domestic violence classes.

Felony;

2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 years in county jail or state prison, and/or

Up to ten thousand dollars in fines, and

Required enrollment in domestic violence classes.

California PC 273(d) - child abuse;

Misdemeanor;

As long as one year in county jail, and/or

Fines of up to six thousand dollars.

Felony;

2, 4, or 6 years in county jail, and/or

Up to six thousand dollars in fines.

Additional Penalties

It is important to remember the long-term consequences associated with a felony conviction for any of the aforementioned offenses. These are just a few of the additional legal punishments someone could face if convicted of a crime that is considered one of moral turpitude such as a serious or violent crime.

  • Gun rights;

    • You could lose the right to acquire, purchase, own, or possess a firearm.

  • Immigration status;

    • You could lose your good-standing immigration status which means you would be deported and denied re-entry in the U.S.

  • Restraining order;

    • The alleged victim(s) of your crimes could get a protection, stay-away, or restraining order against you. This prevents you from coming within a certain distance of them for an appointed window of time. These orders can also be assigned by the judge, depending on the details of the case and the safety of the alleged victim(s).

  • Anger management or batterer’s intervention programs;

    • The court may order you to enroll and participate in classes related to the subject matter. Courses could vary in length from thirty days to three months or longer.

  • Victim restitution;

    • In addition to any court fines, the defendant could be required to pay punitive damages to the victim(s). This means the defendant would be responsible for any medical, legal, or wage losses the victim(s) accrued as a result of the crime.

  • Civil suits;

    • The victim(s) are within their legal rights to sue or bring a civil suit against the perpetrator. In these suits, they could sue for further compensatory damages related to the crime(s) committed against them.

We Can Help

Are you located in San Diego, Orange County, or Los Angeles and need legal assistance? If you or someone you care about is facing a PC 278 charge or any of the previously mentioned offenses, contact the Law Offices of Anna R. Yum.

Attorney Yum is familiar with how quickly the prosecution can work to get a conviction. Do not let your future spiral out of control. Let us help fight for your rights and your freedom.

For more information or to schedule a no-obligation, free consultation give us a call at 619-233-4433. You can also use our convenient online contact form.

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